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The Secondary Victim at Park Theatre, London – ‘uneven exploration of ethical dilemmas’

Susannah Doyle and Christopher Laishley in The Secondary Victim at Park Theatre, London. Photo: Matthew House Susannah Doyle and Christopher Laishley in The Secondary Victim at Park Theatre, London. Photo: Matthew House
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Moral quandaries and hidden motivations simmer at the heart of The Secondary Victim, a dense discussion of ethical dilemmas from playwright and former therapist Matthew Campling.

Packed with overlapping plot lines, the intelligent but inelegantly told story follows Ali (Susannah Doyle), a therapist reeling after an accusation of sexual misconduct from her unstable young client Hugo – a sly and self-assured Michael Hanratty.

Doyle grounds the show with a sensitive performance as Ali, bottling up her mounting fear and frustration through sheer willpower. When she finally confronts her accuser before a formal panel, she impressively conveys both her character’s vulnerability and her incisive intellect.

In supporting roles, Natasha Bain and Matt Holt play devil’s advocate as fellow analysts entangled in the case. Their paths finally cross when they sleep together at a conference, their flirtation believably veering into venting about professional stress.

The minimal staging has four chairs facing each other across a dust sheet painted in sky blue and purple swirls, the kind of abstract art you might find adorning a consulting room.

Director Matthew Gould balances the pensive dialogue with brisk movement, allowing scenes to develop side by side as characters explain their conflicting perspectives. Other choices feel less thoughtful. A sequence in which chairs are rearranged under crossfading lights to a blaring operatic aria seems arbitrary. A therapist hurriedly pocketing his fee after a violent confrontation with a client is downright risible.

Ultimately, though, for a play all about crossed boundaries, there is little here that feels terribly revelatory or transgressive.

Verdict
Uneven and unfocused production that explores the pitfalls of the therapeutic relationship
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